Pandemic Fatigue, Mental Health, & Mother Nature

By: Kevin Furst + Save to a List

Spending time outdoors can give your mental health a much-needed boost and break. Finding time to unplug, no matter what is going on in your life is always a plus.

It's 2019 and we were surrounded by friends and family and counting down the seconds as the ball dropped. 2020 was going to be one of the best years yet. So many plans for festivals, travel, photography workshops, family reunions, picnics, and sporting events.

No one could have predicted where 2020 was about to go. 2020 changed our lives drastically and we had to adapt quickly to this "new normal" way of living.

Holidays, picnics, and birthdays were canceled. Sporting events, concerts, and festivals were canceled. Working from home while managing your child's virtual school. Closed businesses and restaurants. Curbside pick-up and home delivery. No toilet paper or sanitizer. Wearing masks everywhere. Social distancing. Job loss and the loss of loved ones. Fear of being around strangers. Fear of being around family because you could get them sick.

There is a lot to unpack when we talk about the pandemic because the events from 2020 to today were completely different for each of us.

The Pandemic Broke Me

Realizing there was something wrong was harder to see/admit than I thought. I have always had a low level of anxiety but it was manageable and only popped up around big events. This was different, a lot different. This time it was crippling.

So much changed in such a short time that it was hard to identify the single event that took me out. I knew that I needed to start somewhere so I took a few steps to identify and remove some of my biggest stress points.

The 24-hour news cycle is enough to drive anyone crazy. The live ticker of positive cases and deaths was depressing. Breaking news every 30 minutes highlighting everything that was shutting down. The quick solution... I deleted every news app from my phone and stayed away from the television. Next came the doom scrolling on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. I set-up time restrictions on my iPhone to limit my daily social media consumption. The last step was completely shutting off all notifications, except for texts and phone calls. This was the quickest way to get temporary relief and unplug.

The biggest step was to get out of the house and get some fresh air - and often. Remember that "me time" is not selfish, it's essential. You cannot take care of others if you cannot take care of yourself first.

Turning to Mother Nature

Spending time outdoors can give your mental health a much-needed boost and break. Finding time to unplug, no matter what is going on in your life is always a plus.

Being outdoors can reduce your stress levels.
You have a deadline in a few days and you have a mental block, no drive, or motivation. Reducing your stress can help your ability to be more creative and think more clearly. When walking, running, or even finding a quiet place to sit outside, your tension and anxiety melt away. My "time out" place is a nearby waterfall. Researchers in Holland and Japan have found that as little as 20-30 minutes of exposure to nature a day can significantly reduce cortisol levels.

Natural light and fresh air can boost your mood.
Sunlight has the ability to lift you up, especially after the grays winter days. The feeling of the warm sunlight gives your body and mind a sense of well-being. If you want to cure your moody blues, exposure to natural light can improve both your mood and your overall self-esteem.

Stop the go, go, go and give your mind a rest.
If you have a tough day at work, frustrating commute, or lots of deadlines, outdoor activities can let your mind reset and declutter. If you are used to sitting at a desk for 8-hours a day, a walk or hike will let your body move in ways it hasn't for a while and rejuvenate your brain. If you are pressed on time and can't fit in a walk, a quick drive to your favorite overlook, park, the lake, or your favorite quiet place can help too. Give yourself some time in a place you can clear your head and stop thinking so hard.

Exercise.
Hiking, climbing, running, biking and kayaking can make your body feel revitalized in just 30 minutes. You do not have to train like you're getting ready to break the sound barrier or complete a Spartan run to feel the change. If you have a favorite exercise, stretching, or yoga routine, take it outside and soak in the sun and get some fresh air.

Nature Fights Depress & Anxiety.
Nature has profound effects on our mental health. Researchers at Stanford noted that participants who spend time in nature showed less neural activity in the part of the brain associated with depression compared to their urban counterparts. Just 20-30 minutes per day spent in nature (or your garden) can significantly reduce cortisol levels and lower your stress levels.

Screen Time.
We have all been there... Netflix binges and doom scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, and Amazon can create mental fatigue. Our brains have become trained to multi-task and always need stimulation even when we are doing something else. Our brains rarely have time to switch off and normalize, which is exactly what they do when we head outside.

Everyone is different and may need different levels of support. If you or someone you know needs help please use the resources below.

    We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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